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When Social Agents go wrong
When Social Agents go wrong
Recently an event on the boards reminded me again that Internet communities can have far reaching repercussions. Just like any form of media, long term studies don't exist that clearly examine all the "craziness" that could potentially occur.
When I was 17 I took my first college psychology course, and part of the class required a very large paper, that involved an examination of some of the concepts that we were exposed to. I decided to conduct an experiment, at the time I'd had no exposure to ethics and research, and didn't really care all that much. I wish I'd saved the paper, because if I had, right now I'd be posting it as my journal entry. Unfortunately, I'm only just starting to be more cautious about saving the bits and pieces of toilet paper scrawlings that make up a part of who I am.
Enter the Craziness
I was fascinated with Carl Jung and the concepts of Shadow and Persona. I couldn't help myself, they were two pieces of me that for whatever reason at the time could not reconcile. The Persona I'd developed was always wanting to tell people how interesting and wonderful they were, the Shadow I had not giving 2 shits about anyone, and wondering why people were always wasting my precious time.
The internet as we know it today did not exist. What did exist for members of the university I went to, was a VAX VMS message board system. Moderated by the geeky students, for all the students. However, the majority of people using it were geeks. My initial joking around on the boards did get some people extremely irritated, but initially all I was doing was joking around. It was harmless.
I was/am a Lobo fanboy
Before I continue readers, I hope that you can realize this was 14 years ago, and that I am well aware of how inexcusable the behavior was and is.
So, with these factors in place. I decided to conduct research on this vax community by introducing a character into their midst that had no Persona at all, and represented all of my Shadow. I wanted to see how far I could take it, and what they'd be willing to put up with. In modern times you'd call my behavior "trolling". At the time, being a message board "troll" was a concept that did not exist.
I did everything in my power to make these poor people feel miserable, and they all got drawn in. Within 2 days of posting something to the effect of how I believed they were all a group of losers who were leading a piss poor excuse of a life spending all their time building up a fake community where they couldn't even see each other, the entire community of roughly 20 people was plunged into complete and utter chaos. I needled and harangued them at every chance I got, and they got sucked right into it. They had posted personal information about their lives, and I had responded with dismissals of the importance of such events, or worse still got them to tell me more so that I could then make fun of it all. There was no off switch.
What had been a peaceful community of college students who were enjoying new technology quickly turned into a hate festival. Initially, they attempted to deal with my rants and ravings with kid gloves, but soon they were attempting to fight fire with fire. Fights broke out between them regarding how to deal with the barbaric outsider that asked the one who had been in the military if enjoyed killing people. The in fighting resulted in all kinds of groups taking shape, at odds with each other and behaving as I was, but towards each other. I had in essence created a huge mess. The part of my brain that hadn't been consumed by the perverse enjoyment of it all, attempted to put a stop to it. It was too late. They hated me and didn't know anything about me at all. All they knew of me was what I had posted.
I could do nothing but watch them slowly regroup and occasionally apologize for the whole mess. I got an A on the paper, because it was "ground breaking" and some of my "theories" had never been postulated before. The professor understood what I was attempting to do, and thought it was a fairly interesting paper. Many of my conclusions involved the fact that a person can be anyone they want to be on these forums and that the normal persona is dramatically changed. I also recall going on and on about how there is a danger that people will allow their shadow to overtake them, because there is no threat of being reprimanded (of course today we have community exclusion, which seems effective to a point). I also noted how the community itself can stop being reasonable fairly quickly, and how sub communities form extremely quickly to deal with perceived threats. My next great experiment proved to bite me in the ass even more than this one, but that is another story for another time. The professor didn't reprimand me as much as he probably should have, but the whole thing wasn't "real" in the first place, it was "virtual"...
A few years later, I'd actually met some of my "victims" in real life. I discovered that my "fun" had resulted in some people actually seeking mental help in real life. No suicides that I know of, but I guess the guy who was in the military started to have some vicious nightmares, due to some of my comments. I didn't know he was really in the military, and was actually disturbed. This does not excuse the behavior, but it does get this rather strange and embarrassing anecdote to a point.
How the hell does anyone know? What if a person actually is mentally disturbed and requires professional help?
People seem willing to satisfy their anger by posting a hateful comment such as "I hope people like you fucking die." Not realizing that may be one more piece of evidence for the disturbed mind uses when trying to decide if it should commit some kind of atrocity. Not the cause of the disturbance, not the cause of the atrocity, but just one tiny piece that possibly influences a decision.
Yes, I know. This is the Web, obviously if you believe everything a person says, perhaps they can sell you the Golden Gate Bridge. On the other hand, what if they're being honest? What to do then?
Hence, I try to not participate in hateful behavior online (off line all bets are off wink ). A person can refute another persons point without taking them to the woodshed. A person can get another person to think without trampling all over their sense of reality. I don't want to participate in spewing hate to anyone, and do not want to contribute to any kind of negative atrocity. I try to avoid the the large splinters (small specks what can I do? but, you only have to experience the death of a thousand cuts once to understand that every little splinter adds up)
Now, I am not saying. Hey people stop with the taunting, etc... I'm just saying, this is my view.
My idea of these strange new anonymous communities back then, is they can be very dangerous. Now that they aren't so new, I think things are better, but I still see them being potentially dangerous. Damn I wish I'd kept that paper. I'm betting it was the first of its kind. This particular copied blog post takes on even greater relevance here, a place where people are attempting to have sex with each other.
6/27/2006 10:26 pm
Hey good post...Are they really selling the Golden Gate Bridge?...I'd love a piece of that...|
6/30/2006 12:30 pm
LOL, that was mean but I think you know that now.|